Winnie Mandela Biopic Producer Vows to Plow Ahead

Sunday, May 16, 2010  |  Updated 11:00 PM PDT
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Winnie Mandela Biopic Producer Vows to Plow Ahead

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Jennifer Hudson is set to star in a new biopic about Winnie Mandela.

Jennifer Hudson's film biography of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is about to start production, despite threats of legal action by the ex-wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, the film's producer said Saturday.

Speaking at a news conference at the Cannes Film Festival, Andre Pieterse said he received a letter from lawyers for Madikizela-Mandela that "contained the threat of an interdict that could stop production" of "Winnie."

The letter said that "she would like to see the script and approve," but Pieterse said he and director Darrell Roodt had decided against that. "The film will be made based on a screenplay that was well researched and without any interference, without any influence from any of the main characters."

Production on "Winnie" is slated to begin in South Africa on May 31 and last 10 weeks. No release date has yet been set for the film, which stars another U.S. actor, Terrence Howard, as Nelson Mandela.

Madikizela-Mandela rose to prominence during South Africa's apartheid era, when she led the African National Congress and vigorously campaigned for the release of her husband, who spent 27 years in jail. Their marriage fell apart a few years after his 1990 release.

In 1991, Madikizela-Mandela was sentenced to six years in jail for her role in a kidnapping case. The sentence was reduced to a fine on appeal, but she was later convicted of fraud and theft charges.

Roodt — the South African behind "Cry, the Beloved Country" and "Sarafina!" — sought to downplay the unsavory elements of Madikizela-Mandela's biography, repeatedly calling the Mandelas' relationship "an amazing love story about what one woman will do for her man."

The movie spans most of Madikizela-Mandela's life, following her from her early teens through the present, Roodt said.

"It's not a rose-tinted picture by any stretch of the imagination. However, we contextualize that so you understand where that comes from."

"This is a woman who is just extraordinary beyond all measure and it's high time that a great film is made about a great South African and a great human being who's done so much for not only South Africa but the world," he said. "I shouldn't say this, but I think Winnie's going to love the movie."

Academy Award-winning U.S. actress Hudson said she didn't know much about Madikizela-Mandela before accepting the role, but added she's been reading up on South Africa and on the Mandelas.

"I'm still in the process of learning," she said. "It's not small shoes to fill, it's a big deal. And it's something that I'm extremely excited about."

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